Do you have 15 minutes to spare? If so, you can be a citizen scientist. Over the past few years, citizen scientists — ordinary people who help scientists and organizations track the count and behaviors of such creatures as birds, hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and others — have been active and helpful information gatherers. After all, researchers can’t be everywhere, and many of us have habitats in our backyards and neighborhoods that can help others gain important information about nature.
And, if that isn’t enough, citizen science makes a fun family or classroom activity, getting naturalists of all ages and abilities outdoors together and providing them with something to do and a way to feel helpful and a part of the Earth’s larger ecosystem. Don’t let the name intimidate you. All you need to participate in citizen science is the desire to observe nature to the best of your ability for a period of time and record what you see.
Scientist Gretchen LeBuhn, of the San Francisco Bay Area, hopes to get thousands of people counting this weekend through her Great Sunflower Project. You can count bees on sunflowers, bee balm, cosmos, rosemary, tickseed, and purple coneflower. The instructions on the site are very easy to follow and complete.
Pollinators (a group in which bees are in important member) affect 35 percent of the world’s crop production, studies have shown. In recent years, bee populations have declined so drastically, due to climate and environmental change, that scientists are struggling to understand and reverse what they call “colony collapse disorder”.
Us citizen scientists can help identify where native bee populations are doing well and where they’re doing poorly. Even if you can’t help this weekend, planting sunflowers or other bee-friendly flowers can help the bee population in your area.
The Great Sunflower Project takes place July 16 this year. (Updated for 2013: The Great Sunflower Project is August 17, but you can participate any time.) There are lots of other great citizen science projects. Some are event-based and others are ongoing.
The Great Sunflower Project
Project Feeder Watch
The Great Backyard Bird Count
Acoustic Bat Monitoring
The Weather Observer Program
National Wildlife Federation‘s Wildlife Watch
NASA Meteor Count
Hummingbird Migration Map
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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman